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The Terrorism Conviction of a Martial Arts Instructor and Jazz Musician

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One way or another, I got added to the e-mail list of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF). The group’s recent emailing includes this flyer claiming that jazz musician and former martial arts instructor Tarik Shah — who entered a guilty plea and was sentenced in 2007 to fifteen years imprisonment on a terrorism-related prosecution — was entrapped by federal agents and prosecuted on the basis of his offer to teach martial arts. With martial arts — namely taijiquan — and jazz music being an integral part of my life, the flyer particularly grabbed my attention.

The flyer urges: “Write to Attorney General Eric Holder… Tell the Attorney General to review the case and to stop entrapping people.” Here is a support page for Mr. Shah, whose flyer says he played bass at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Mr. Shah having entered a guilty plea and apparently not having filed for appellate nor post conviction relief, the courts are not going to intervene at this point, and I doubt such letters will sway Eric Holder.

Whether or not Mr. Shah was entrapped, it is disturbing that law enforcement relies so heavily on making up conspiracies in an effort to then arrest and prosecute them, including going so far as to do that with Christopher Tappin, a British citizen who was recently extradited to the United States over a made-up deal arranged by United States federal agents for Mr. Tappin to assist with the sale of missile batteries to Iran. These investigations, pursuits and prosecutions often become tremendously expensive, including payment for multiple hours of work by federal agents, prosecutors, and court-appointed criminal defense lawyers.

Disturbing about Mr. Shah’s case is that he was apparently prosecuted for offering to teach martial arts to Al-Qaeda members in a scheme cooked up by federal agents. Also disturbing is that his co-defendant Rafiq Sabir was apparently prosecuted and convicted for offering to provide medical services to Al-Qaeda members. If such prosecutions and convictions are allowed, how safe are martial arts instructors and medical doctors when providing services to Al-Qaeda members without knowing they are with Al-Qaeda? Here, I have not reviewed Mr. Shah’s and Mr. Sabir’s cases enough to know the extent to which they knew in advance about such Al-Qaeda connections, or the extent to which they wanted to join or assist with Al-Qaeda, or not. Nevertheless, should it be a crime to offer and provide medical services to real and alleged terrorists that one knows to be terrorists?

Al-Qaeda is far from any friend of mine. However, the over one-decade-long post September 11 so-called “war on terrorism”, is taking a severe toll on civil liberties and human rights, including through renditions, years-long Guantanamo detentions without formal criminal charges and trials, domestic spying on countless innocent civilians, invasive airport searches, and the list goes on.

Here are some key court filings and other documents in Mr. Shah’s case:

  • The case docket.
  • Mr. Shah’s final superseding indictment.
  • Mr. Shah’s motion in limine.
  • The plea agreement.
  • The prosecution’s sentencing memorandum. I found none for the defense.
  • Mr. Shah’s judgment, showing a fifteen-year sentence on a guilty plea to Count I, for providing material support to a terrorist organization.
  • The 2011 Second Circuit opinion affirming Mr Sabir’s conviction, along with a sharp dissent.
  • New York Times 2005 article on the charges against Mr. Shah and Mr. Sabir.
  • Jazz Times 2006 article on the prosecution of Mr. Shah.